Good Movie Review About Cinematography Reading Response
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In this scene from the East German film Divided Heaven (1964), Rita and Manfred have lunch and walk along the city, discussing politics, Waldred and their relationship. Director Konrad Wolf’s central motif is to separate the two characters from the world around them, allowing the pervasive and intrusive architecture of the city to dwarf them in order to make them feel closed in and separated from everyone else. Through the director’s creative use of cinematography, the city asserts itself as a character of its own.
The first shot pans along the exterior of a restaurant – a low angle shot shows the building itself passing by, making the audience feel insignificant and alienated, while lens flares shine in their face. The director then match cuts to a panning shot inside the restaurant, on the other side of the blinds the last shot ended on, focusing on the architecture more than the people. Even as the shot pans to show people, they are mostly far away in the background of the shot, with Manfred being shown from behind in the right foreground. This immediately sets him apart from the rest of civilization, a motif that establishes the relationship he and Rita will have to the city.
Cutting to Manfred and Rita at the table in the diner, the two are framed opposite each other, demonstrating the emotional distance that occurs between them. Meanwhile, the waiter robotically pours coffee at the table, the waiter’s head missing from the frame to de-humanize him and make him just another part of the scenery. Both characters are also backlit by the blinds, which halos them in blinding white light - yet another oppressive image that demonstrates their feelings of anxiety and tension, both about each other and the materialistic society that surrounds them.
The city outside the diner is just as oppressive, and the director warps cinematographic time by placing these characters in vastly different scenarios while making their conversation flow uninterrupted, the city acting as a backdrop for the characters’ anxieties about each other and their relationship. The next shot features the two of them walking from a distance at a low angle towards the camera, which is eclipsed by a large billboard advertisement featuring a jubilant woman holding a box of Persil (a German laundry detergent) in the air, a visual representation of the materialism and capitalism that surrounds these characters. Rita and Manfred start the shot at the bottom of frame, the camera only capturing their heads and shoulders from the distance, highlighting the importance of the billboard as compared to the characters. Even when the characters walk past the advertisement, they stop, and the woman’s face is framed in between their two bodies, anthropomorphizing the city and its temptations as a third character in the scene.
The next shot echoes Manfred’s first shot in the diner, as Rita and Manfred sit on a bench in the left foreground in front of another tall building that eclipses the frame, with people in the right background at a great distance from them (including a woman wheeling a baby carriage). This image, and the others in this sequence, demonstrates their mutual desire to connect to each other in light of the overbearing and alienating city that surrounds them; the only movement in the shot is the passing of the mother and carriage behind the two from the right of frame, a visual reminder of the life and family the two characters could have had passing them by.
Rita and Manfred are the two main characters in the scene, but the city in the background keeps calling our attention to it, showing just how difficult it is to escape these conditions. By keeping the characters apart from the world that surrounds them and gradually bringing the two of them closer and closer in each successive shot, the film showcases their ability to find support in each other against a city that holds them at a distance.
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